When Jack Liggett moved to Wind Crest, the Erickson Senior Living community in Highlands Ranch, Colo., he brought 50 years' worth of community theater experience with him. Eager to put his talents to use, he suggested starting a theater group. Pete Ritchie, who was then serving as community resource manager at Wind Crest, happily accepted his offer.
Pete, now retired and living at Wind Crest, helped Jack get the word out. They decided to call the group Reader's Theater, "so that it was clear from the get-go that they weren't going to have to memorize their parts," says Jack.
During the performances, actors read directly from scripts. "About three minutes in, the audience forgets you've got a script," notes Jack.
Building a cast
Since the group's first meeting in 2011, when 10 thespians showed up, Reader's Theater has grown to between 25 and 30 members.
While some shows feature just a few performers, other casts include all members of the Reader's Theater. In October, their production of Take Me Out to the Ballgame was a show comprising a number of skits revolving around baseball. About 25 people performed in total.
Jack and Pete share directing and producing responsibilities for the four shows they put on each year, but the mission of Reader's Theater goes beyond organizing performances. Each Friday, Jack and Pete teach a class on the elements of theater for interested members.
"We teach them improv, we talk about scripts, and then we do rehearsals for the shows," says Pete.
Setting the stage
As it's grown, the Reader's Theater has also moved locations for its productions. When they outgrew the art classroom, shows were held in the Fireside Lounge. And when the community's Arts and Enrichment Center was built, they found a permanent home, as the Reader's Theater has practiced and performed there ever since.
Although there's no design team to create elaborate background sets, the stage is always loaded with props to evoke the play's setting. For The Belle of Amherst, members collected and set up a rocking chair, some tables, and even a period desk on loan from a community member. "We cobble together what we can find," jokes Jack.
To acquire scripts, Jack works with a publication studio called ArtAge Senior Theatre Resource Center, which specializes in scripts for seniors and offers an extensive catalog. Over the years, the Reader's Theater has put on productions such as Driving Miss Daisy, Love Letters, Church and State, Stories from the Stones, Love in 4/4 Time, and many more.
Pete avidly participated in the Reader's Theater as a staff member at Wind Crest. But when he had a stroke nine years ago, he decided to retire, and for a while, the Reader's Theater was on the back burner as he recovered.
With his recovery, Pete and his wife began visiting her mother, who lived at Wind Crest.
"I ran into Jack," recalls Pete. "He said, 'Well, you're walking now; you're recovering. How would you like to come back to Reader's Theater?' I said, 'That would be fantastic!' And until we moved in ourselves, I would drive to Wind Crest frequently to be involved."
Returning to Reader's Theater really made a difference in his life, says Pete. "It's therapeutic for the people who live here, as it was for me when I came back after the stroke. The best 'therapy' I could get anywhere was coming back to Wind Crest and being on stage and rehearsing," says Pete.
A team effort
Reader's Theater, stresses Jack, is a team effort. Borrowing costumes from a professional company, serving as stage managers, working as ushers, selling tickets, managing props, and publicizing shows are only a handful of tasks that members volunteer to do.
"I don't care whether you're a good actor or a bad actor. If you're there, and you're willing to participate, you're getting something out of it!" says Jack.
Being inclusive and making sure actors are comfortable is crucial to Jack and Pete. "I promised them from day one that I would never let them do anything that would embarrass them. We're trying to provide an experience for the actors as well as the audience," says Jack.
"And even if we flub a line, the audience doesn't know. But they also don't care because they're out there rooting for us!" says Pete. "They love seeing what we can do."
"And sometimes," says Jack, "we surprise them."
With the support of Jack, Pete, and their fellow Wind Crest neighbors, members of Reader's Theater are excited for their upcoming Christmas show called 'Tis the Season, which they are currently busy preparing for.
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